New US National Security Advisor John Bolton Chairs a Website that Spreads Disinformation About Migration

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he would be replacing National Security Advisor Lt. General H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, an attorney and former US representative to the United Nations (2005-2006). While Bolton has had a long and varied career that he describes on the website of his political action committee, he fails to mention there the role that we at Migration Voter find most interesting, as the chair of a website that been successful in spreading false and misleading information about migrants in Europe, the Gatestone Institute.

On Gatestone’s website, John Bolton is described as the “Chairman” of the site, a role he has occupied since 2013, when it was announced by Gatestone Founder and President Nina Rosenwald. (Rosenwald is an active philanthropist who has been described by The Nation and The Intercept as one of the chief financiers of the anti-Muslim movement.) At the time Bolton commented, “I am privileged to be a part of an organization that provides vital information and analysis on a daily basis to address the critical issues facing the United States and all freedom-loving people in a dangerous world.” Since then he has been an active contributor to the site, penning pieces such as “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First” and “How to Get out of the Iran Nuclear Deal.” Gatestone confirmed today that Bolton is still chairman with a press release congratulating him on his new position and stating that his appointment “is great for America, great for its allies and great for the free world.”

Spreading Fear and Confusion

The website spends a great deal of time commenting on America’s allies and its idea of a free world, and their view is rather frightening. Articles like, “Sweden: Rape Capital of the West“, “Germany’s Migrant Rape Crises Continues Unabated“, “France: Toward Total Submission to Islam, Destruction of Free Speech“, “Is the United Kingdom an Islamist Colony?” are filled with inaccuracies and confusing, baseless claims designed to link migrants, particularly Muslim migrants, to sex crime and societal problems. For instance:

  • In the article linked above on Sweden, the authors suggest that Sweden’s rape rate is mainly owed to a “mass influx” of immigrants from the Middle East, but then admit that reports on rape statistics do “not touch on the background of the rapists.”
  • The article on Germany relies heavily on statements that many sex crimes in Germany are unreported or unsolved- a claim that may be true, but bears no plausible relation to alleging the culprits must be migrants.
  • In the article about France, the author claims that opponents of Islam are fiercely prosecuted while “hate-filled, racist organizations are never touched”- and yet government statistics show hundreds of criminal cases brought against people for anti-Semitic hate speech, statements “apologizing for terrorism” and anti-Christian hate crime (among others.)

Using poorly constructed arguments that rely on conflating statistics, anecdotal evidence and logical fallacies to spread misinformation, Gatestone has managed to become prominent, cited by anti-immigrant sources from Breitbart to white nationalist terrorist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in the 2011 Norway Attacks. (Breivik quoted a Norwegian Gatestone blogger, “Fjordman” aka Peder Jensen, over a hundred times in his terrorist manifesto.)

Links to the European Far Right

The website also hosts thinkers with deep connections to Europe’s far-right anti-immigrant vanguard. For instance, David Horowitz, whose foundation the David Horowitz Freedom Center frequently comments on Gatestone, came under fire in California for possibly violating IRS rules by donating election funds to Geert Wilders’ far-right People’s Party (PVV) in the Netherlands. According to The Intercept:

Records posted by the Dutch interior ministry show that in 2014 and 2015 the Freedom Center provided multiple donations totaling 126,354 euros — approximately $134,000 — to the “Stichting Vrienden van de PVV,” or the Friends of the PVV Foundation, the fundraising arm of the party.

As described in last year’s election manifesto, Geert Wilders’ PVV platform includes withdrawing from the European Union, banning migration of Muslim people to the Netherlands, accepting zero refugees and banning the Koran.

What does Bolton think?

Bolton fails to mention the chairmanship position he has held at the Gatestone Institute since 2013 on either his political action committee biography, his twitter biography, or his biography at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a Senior Fellow. Will he pursue an agenda in line with Gatestone’s distorted anti-migrant, anti-Muslim worldview in his new position advising the US president? For an administration that has made opposition to migration one of its hallmarks, it seems unlikely Bolton will not add more fuel to the fire.

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 2.36.14 PM

 


Sources and Further Reading
President Donald Trump announcement on Twitter, March 22, 2018
Meet John Bolton, BoltonPAC.com
The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate, Max Blumenthal, The Nation, 2012
Her father championed Jewish refugees. She finances the anti-Muslim refugee movement. Lee Fang, The Intercept, 2017.
Breivik’s political idol Fjordman emerges from anonymity VG Nyheter, 2011
One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre In Norway, Åsne Seierstad, 2013
California Non-Profit May Have Violated Tax Law by Donating to Anti-Muslim, Far Right Candidate, Lee Fang, The Intercept, 2017
Where do the Dutch Parties Stand on Refugees? MV
Image via Gage Skidmore on Flickr, https://bit.ly/2FYi0c5 (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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AfD’s American Model

By Christina Lee

Results from yesterday’s parliamentary elections in Germany are in, and they could spell big changes for the future direction of migration policy in Germany. Although the dissolution of the Grand coalition between the CDU and SPD, as well as the re-entrance of neo-liberal FDP into the Bundestag will certainly have a major impact, the story of the evening for people interested in migration is the success of the anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, who arrive in parliament for the very first time as the third strongest party with close to 13% of the vote.

This is a major achievement for the young party, which started in 2013 as a Euroskeptic, neo-liberal party and has shifted to making opposition to immigration, diversity, and people who are Muslim the focus of their campaign (our summary of their manifesto can be found here). While many are explaining the party’s success as a backlash to the status quo or as a sign that German society is moving to the right on the issue of migration, we at Migration Voter are equally convinced that the AfD has managed to harness some very powerful methods for gaining and keeping public attention, tricks that they learned by following the success of the right-wing political movement in the United States.

Trump-style Publicity

During the election campaign, the AfD stood out very markedly from their peers by their confrontative and combative style. On their webpage and in social media marketing blasted on facebook and twitter they urged Germans to “take their country back” and depicted the CDU’s Merkel in a burqa or measuring “ordinary” Germans against refugees (and weighing refugees more). They used vibrant, jokey ads mocking Islam and multiculturalism while highlighting women and children, and moved away from the more sober and alarming advertisements they used in the last election, exhorting voters against the Euro and warning of Germany’s imminent destruction.

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As the Spiegel revealed, their “meme”- based social media strategy was likely influenced by their engagement of the US-based PR firm Harris Media, a group that formerly worked on the election campaigns of US Republican Donald Trump and the British anti-immigrant, Euroskeptic party UKIP. As the company touts on its homepage, their founder has been called “the man who invented the Republican internet’ and has been involved in campaigns in favor of fracking and natural gas and opposed to Syrian refugees and solar energy.

The shift towards lighter, meme-worthy advertisements coincided with a press strategy that seemed aimed at garnering any attention, even negative. Like Trump during his campaign in 2016, the AfD barraged the media almost daily with controversial statements and events geared towards grabbing headlines. This would lead to interviews and greater coverage until the next controversial remark would appear and start the cycle again. For instance, AfD candidate for Berlin Beatrix von Storch invited the controversial ex-UKIP representative and right-wing media personality Nigel Farage to come speak at a private campaign event, where he led the crowd in cheering for Donald Trump and Brexit and harshly mocked the media, Merkel,  SPD candidate Martin Schulz and former US President Barack Obama.

Another example came a few days later when a conspiracy theory-laden email, apparently written by co-lead candidate Alice Weidel, leaked to the press. In it, she (allegedly) writes in 2013 that Germany has been “overrun by Arabs, Sinti and Roma” as a result of policy pursued by the government,  “pigs”.. who “are nothing other than marionettes of the victorious powers of the second world war, whose task it is to keep down the German people.” The full letter was published in Welt am Sonntag to objections from Weidel, who initially threatened to sue and later stopped claiming that the document was false (after it had been in headlines several days.)

Just as the firestorm around Weidel was dying down, her co-candidate Alexander Gauland’s taboo-shattering statements at a meeting with supporters broke out in the press, in which he stated (in an apparent dog-whistle to the extreme far-right) that Germans “have a right to be proud of the achievements of the German soldiers in two world wars.” This resulted in another round of media condemnations, accompanied with headlines and interview requests for Gauland.

In all these cases (and these are only a few examples), the AfD was itself publicizing the “gaffes” as evidence that the mainstream media was attacking them and attempting to harm them before the election.

Tea-party Crowd Infiltration

The AfD doesn’t seem to just be taking inspiration from President Trump, however. The actions AfD used to protest pre-election rallies of Merkel were extremely reminiscent of the tactics used by Tea Party organizers to get attention for their movement opposing Obamacare.

As investigative journalist Jane Meyer writes in her book Dark Money, which covers the rise of anonymous forms of political financing, Tea party protestors were instructed in how best to disrupt town hall meetings about health care in 2009, creating the illusion of a mass outbreak of anger by ordinary citizens that had in fact been carefully arranged in advance by professionals.

“The anger appeared spontaneous. But the investigative reporter Lee Fand discovered that a volunteer with [Koch sponsored org] FreedomWorks was circulating a memo instructing Tea Partiers on how to disrupt the meetings. Bob MacGuffie, who ran a Web site called RightPrinciples.com, advised opponents to “pack the hall.. spread out” to make their numbers seem more significant, and to “rock the boat early in the Rep’s presentation… to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

Of course, there is nothing illegal about protesting in this way, but it is a distinctive style of protest that is particularly misleading to outsiders. That is why it is interesting that the AfD, with help from other groups, engaged in such a similar tactic in protesting Angela Merkel at her campaign appearances. Opponents of the Chancellor were told about events and given free rides to them on buses provided by the AfD, NPD and local right-wing groups (including some outlawed ones), reports Die Zeit, and were instructed on how best to gain attention: spread out, be loud, and actively seek out reporters. It worked. Numerous reports showed Merkel being booed and whistled at by angry crowds on the campaign trail.

“A maximum of ten percent of the attendees make noise, but they are so conspicuous that they subsequently determine the picture.”

Shadowy donors

It is common on the left and the right to lament the outsized influence of money on American politics, and there have been numerous articles and books written exploring the way that anonymous billionaire donors shape US elections. One way, which ProPublica explains in detail, is to donate anonymously to tax-exempt 501c3 organizations. Under US law, 501c3 organizations must report how they spend their money, but not necessarily where they receive it from. So long as the organization works for “public welfare”, the donations are also tax deductible, even if used for political lobbying and materials such as flyers, billboards and campaign ads. These non-profits are, in theory at least, not supposed to directly engage in politics. However, in recent elections, they have spent millions on advertisements supporting their candidates.

In Germany, the state partially finances election campaigns, which tend to be much cheaper and shorter than American election campaigns. Nevertheless, the AfD seems to have taken inspiration from American politics in a way that is quite unusual for Germany, by funding large portions of their campaign through anonymous donations funneled into a non-profit association.

As the non-profit watchdog group Lobby Control reports, AfD is the only party that has a registered association (e.V) providing millions in support from anonymous donors.

Since spring 2016, it has been taking part in election campaigns by an opaque association – with measures such as large-scale billboards and internet spots worth several million euros . Who is behind the association is unclear; traces lead to the Swiss PR agency Goal AG. The donors deliberately use the association as a legal gap to remain anonymous. This is an unprecedented dimension of non-transparent electoral campaign support in Germany.

The supporting organization engages in campaigning for the AfD via newspaper inserts, billboards (as seen on their website) as well as internet ads and video spots. These and the AfD’s own fundraising have been effective at ensuring a massive online presence for the AfD- an upcoming analysis from Oxford that Der Spiegel previewed will apparently demonstrate that fully 30% of tweets about the election were in favor of the AfD.

A Successful Strategy

In sum, it is difficult to dismiss out of hand that the AfD may have taken some inspiration from Donald Trump and other right-wing movements in the US. In messaging and in tactics, the AfD appears to have liberally borrowed ideas and even occasionally slogans (such as the “Make Germany Safe Again” hat Beatrix von Storch was sporting in a recent twitter selfie.) Undeniably, these tactics have been extremely successful, helping take the party from the fringes to the third largest party in parliament.

What remains to be seen is whether the combative tactics of the campaign will translate well to governing. Unlike in the US, a multi-party system like Germany makes coalition building a practical necessity, and the AfD will need to build more proactive policies into their platform if they want to be anything more than an angry opposition. But here as well there is a US model, for we can see that by bashing the media and creating now altercations with public figures and even other world leaders, President Trump has managed to maintain his base’s support. Whether the AfD achieves its aims is one thing, whether it is able to retain power now that it has gotten some, is another.


Sources and Further Reading
AfD Engages US Agency, (in German) Der Spiegel, Aug. 2017
Nigel Farage’s Full Speech in Berlin Youtube.com
These pigs are nothing more than puppets of the war victors” (in German) Welt am Sonntag, Sept. 2017 (email reproduced in article)
AfD Candidate Weidel is no longer talking about forgery, (in German) Welt am Sonntag, Sept. 2017
Gauland Speech in Kyffhäusertreffens des Flügels (in German), Youtube.com, Sept. 2017
Dark Money, Jane Meyer (New York: Anchor) 2017, page 238.
Alternative Mobs” (in German) (with video) Die Zeit, Sept. 2017
How Non-Profits Spend Millions on Elections and Call it Public Welfare, ProPublica, 2012
Exemption Requirements: 501c3 Organizations, The Internal Revenue Service
Germany: Campaign Finance. The Law Library of Congress.
Why Germany’s Politics are Much Saner, Nicer and Cheaper Than Ours, The Atlantic, 2013.
Party Check before the Election (in German), Lobby Control, Sept. 2017
Recht und Freiheit Verein
Oxford Study: Why the AfD Dominates the Twitter Campaign. Der Spiegel, Sept. 2017.
Header Image: via Beatrix von Storch on twitter

Opinion: British “Progressive Alliance” failed from bad politics and bad faith

By Phil Butland

This is the latest in Migration Voter’s opinion series on strategic voting. Read our previous article on France here.

At the beginning of the British election campaign, the Green Party touted the idea of a “progressive alliance” against the Tories. To many people this seemed like a no-brainer. With the Tory manifesto showing the return of the “nasty party”, surely anything would be better than Theresa May coming back into power.

Here’s how a progressive alliance works. One of the peculiarities of the British election campaign is that an MP only needs to win more votes than any other candidate in his or her electoral district. With multiple candidates, most MPs do not even have the support of half the people who voted.

A progressive alliance would mean that in each district the local parties would decide which candidate would be most likely to beat the Tories. All other candidates would stand down, and the result would be a Tory wipe-out.

So why did the progressive alliance not happen? In this article, I will argue that it was a mixture of bad politics, bad faith, and the pessimistic (if, at the time, understandable) view that just because Labour was polling 20% behind the Tories they were incapable of winning on their own.

Bad Politics

Firstly, the bad politics. One of the conditions on which the Greens insisted was the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats in the progressive alliance. This posed a number of problems, not least that just seven years ago the LibDems fought an election campaign based on one major promise  – the withdrawal of tuition fees.

The Liberal Democrat election manifesto of 2010 declared “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income” around the time of the National Union of Students conference in April of that year. LibDem leader Nick Clegg issued a youtube video titled “Say goodbye to broken promises”. The first frame was a piece of paper on which was written “No student tuition fees – Labour”.

libdem vid

On 28 April Clegg claimed tuition fees would double under a Conservative or Labour government: “We think it’s unfair when you graduate and you haven’t even taken your first step in the world of adult work to be saddled with £25,000 worth of debt”. Every Lib Dem candidate who was subsequently elected signed a “Vote for Students” pledge, promising to vote against any rise in tuition fees in the next parliament.

The election resulted in a hung parliament and the LibDems could have joined a coalition government led by Labour or by the Tories. They chose the Tories – who promptly tripled tuition fees. On 9 December 2010, in the Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, MPs approved raising the cap on tuition fees by a 323 to 302 vote. 28 LibDem MPs voted for the bill and only 21 voted against. Indeed one of the arguments that claim current LibDem Leader Tim Fallon is somehow progressive is that he was one of the minority of MPs who voted for party policy.

The LibDems propped up the Conservative government for its full term, and were punished at the subsequent election where they lost nearly all their MPs. In 2010, boosted by a strong campaign in student constituencies, 57 LibDem MPs were voted into parliament. In the 2015 election, only eight remained.

But surely they’ll have learned from their mistakes? Apparently not. Under new leader Tim Farron, an evangelical Christian who has received due flak for his views on gay marriage, the LibDems have repeatedly refused to rule out entering another coalition with the Tories. Under these circumstances, they had no need for a progressive alliance – and a progressive alliance had no need for them.

Despite putting on a progressive front, Farron has called abortion “wrong at any time”. Former Campaigns manager to the gay LibDem MP Simon Hughes, Mark Gettleson has said:

“Tim Farron now presents himself as a changed man. He says he now regrets abstaining on equal marriage, despite not distancing himself from his amendments. He’s changed his mind too on his opposition to the Equality Act’s ban on discrimination in the provision of goods and services … But it is not enough to repent of the past when it becomes convenient to do so.”

When Corbyn won the Labour leadership, Farron appealed to the Labour MPs working against Corbyn (and the majority of their party) and Conservatives, telling The Guardian “Over the past few days I have received a number of messages and calls from friends within the Labour party distressed by the direction that their party is taking. To the right, I have talked with a new Conservative MP taken aback by the attitudes that they have encountered within their own party.”

His appeal to centrists in both parties continued in April 2017, when he refused to rule out forming another coalition with the Tories. As with former LibDem leader Nick Clegg, who opposed student fees out of office then helped push them through, we must judge Farron not on what he says but what he has done and what he’s likely to do in the future.

That’s a maybe, but surely Labour could make some deal with the Greens? After all, during the dark years of Tony Blair, the Greens remained the conscience of the nation, with many people – including myself – voting for them as a progressive alternative to Blair’s politics of war and austerity.

Now I could certainly see a good case for the Greens and Labour making a voting alliance, especially in the (many) constituencies held by Labour MPs who have consistently campaigned against Corbyn. Since the general election in 2015, Labour has trebled its membership to over 500.000 people. Although most people have joined because of Corbyn’s leadership, a majority of MPs, and their house journal, the supposedly progressive newspaper The Guardian have tried to undermine him every step of the way.

Following a continuous barrage of Guardian articles declaring Corbyn to be “unelectable” 172 Labour MPs submitted a no-confidence vote in Corbyn with just 40 supporting him. 20 shadow cabinet ministers and around 30 other junior ministers resigned, coordinating their resignations at hourly intervals to sustain media pressure on Corbyn. Nonetheless, in this second leadership election, Corbyn won an increased majority with over 60% of the vote, including a vast majority of individual party members.

Despite this, in the current election campaign, many candidates have openly snubbed the Labour Leadership. Phil Wilson, Tony Blair’s successor as Labour MP for Sedgefield proudly told Facebook that “I am no supporter of Jeremy Corbyn” and “it is my name on the ballot paper here, not Corbyn”. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly said that voters would “laugh me off the streets” if he put Corbyn’s policies on his leaflets (

As Corbyn has gained ground on the Tories, both The Guardian and the rebel MPs have largely fallen into line. The Guardian’s sister paper The Observer even claimed that Corbyn “should be commended for the dignified way in which he has dealt with an immensely hostile media onslaught from the rightwing tabloids”, even though some of the greatest hostility came from its own stable. Nevertheless, it is clear that even if Corbyn wins the election, he cannot be sure of the support of the majority of his parliamentary party, and will need the backing of other progressives both inside and outside parliament.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Green’s suggestion of a progressive alliance this time round was tainted by bad faith from the start.

Bad Faith

It wasn’t just the insistence that the LibDems be involved. As soon as Labour wavered on the idea of a progressive alliance, the Greens – and their only MP, the genuinely progressive Caroline Lucas – spent much more time attacking Labour than they did the Tories. A particular low point was their election broadcast of 12 May. This broadcast lambasted Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May equally, while saying that the Greens were the only true anti-establishment party.

And yet what has characterized this election campaign had been Corbyn’s ability to tap into an anti-establishment feeling shared by millions who have suffered under the Tories. Addressing rallies of thousands of people and with the support of actors like Maxine Peake and film directors like Ken Loach, Corbyn has turned the election into a two-horse race. A couple of weeks ago, the Tories led by 20% in the polls. At the time of writing, polls are predicting a hung parliament. A yougov survey for the Sunday Times put support for the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 38% . On top of this, the Scottish and Welsh nationalists are unlikely to support the Tories, nor are the Greens or Sinn Féin who are likely to take their seats in Westminster for the first time.  And there’s still over a week to go.

Voting intention 1-2 Jun]-01

Corbyn’s success comes from a series of positive demands – for a minimum wage, a decent health service and for humane treatment of refugees , that comes from standing for something. Horse trading with the Greens and particularly the Liberal Democrats would have blunted this message. A progressive alliance is based on preventing the worst from happening and is in its very nature negative and reactive.

The Greens may have called upon Corbyn to join them in stopping the Tories, yet they only have one MP, and their only real chances of getting any more lies in constituencies with Labour MPs. Standing down in other areas would have helped them concentrate their resources – and to save a lot of money they will lose from lost deposits.

Does this mean that a progressive alliance is always a bad idea or that British progressive voters should vote Labour everywhere? I do believe that this time round, all British voters should vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but in two areas there is a case to be made that the Corbyn candidate is not necessarily the Labour candidate.

The first area is Scotland. After decades of Labour misrule and a refusal to address the national question, Labour was punished in Scotland at the last general election, where the SNP ran a left social democratic campaign and won all but 3 of the 59 seats available. One of the few pleasures of the last parliamentary sessions has been watching the 22-year old SNP MP Mhairi Black regularly excoriating the Tories for their soulless policies (see, for example, here, here, here and here).

The Corbyn effect is only just starting to take hold in parts of Scotland, and in many cases, progressive voters will be torn between choosing between the SNP and Labour. Scotland would actually be one place where a progressive alliance could be effective, yet the SNP have no interest in helping Labour try to win back the support that they have squandered in Scotland.

The other constituency where progressives should consider voting against Labour is Bradford West,  where I lived for many years and would be voting if I still had the right to vote in the UK.  Salma Yaqoob is a former leader of RESPECT, the party set up by George Galloway after Tony Blair launched the war on Iraq. In 2017, Salma is standing against Naz Shah, a Labour MP who has gleefully joined the plots against Jeremy Corbyn. There is no question that Salma is the candidate with the better politics and the more personal integrity.

There are still two possible reasons not to vote for Salma. The first would be if her candidacy would split the progressive vote and let the Tories in. This seems to be highly unlikely – and there is some talk of the possibility of Salma actually winning.

The second reason to doubt is that this election – more than most others – will be used to judge the personal and political qualities of the two main leaders – Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. There are many Labour right wingers who will jump on any losses of Labour under Corbyn to remove him and to return the party to its old neo-liberal leadership.

And yet it seems to me – albeit from 1000 kilometres away – that even if Corbyn wins the election (something few people were even considering even a week ago) he will be opposed by most of his own MPs and the presence of someone like Salma in parliament would be of considerable use to him – not to mention the platform it would offer her to speak out for genuine progressive politics.

Lessons for Germany?

Finally, I would like to sum up by asking what this all means for the coming German elections and for the LINKE party, of which I am a member. Many party members are excited by the possibility of die LINKE entering government, as a junior partner to the SPD and Greens. I am more sceptical – not least because taking part in a government following the same austerity programme as today’s SPD would open the way to the mixture of neo-liberals and out-and-out fascists in the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) being able to pose as being the “real” anti-establishment party.

But even if die LINKE wants to join a coalition government, Jeremy Corbyn has proved how it is possible to gain electoral support by offering clear, progressive politics. Which is why die LINKE campaign must be centered on supporting the weakest – including migrants and refugees – and fighting together for a better society.

If we limit our offer to saying “at least we’re not as bad as the other lot”, we shouldn’t be surprised if we fail to inspire.


Phil Butland is the speaker of die LINKE Berlin Internationals (https://theleftberlin.wordpress.com/, lag.internationals@die-linke-berlin.de)


Sources and Further Reading
Green Party Urges Electoral Alliance, The Guardian, June 2016
Nasty Party“, Wikipedia
 Liberal Democrat Election Manifesto 2010
Liberal Democrats: Say Goodbye to Broken Promises. Youtube, April 2010
Tuition Fees and the Lib Dems, Channel 4, Oct. 2010
Fact Check: Lib Dem Rebellion on Cards, Channel 4, Oct 10
Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, UK Parliament, 2010
Mark Gettleson: Why Tim Farron’s Record on Gay Marriage MattersHuffington Post, July 2016
Tim Farron: Corbyn win ‘potentially changes everything’ for Lib Dems, The Guardian, Sept. 2015
Tim Farron: Lib Dem leader refuses to rule out coalition with the Conservatives (Video), The Independent, April 2017
Labour shadow cabinet and ministers resignations – the letters in full. The Telegraph, June 2016
Green Party – Party Election Broadcast: 2017 General Election, Youtube, May 2017
SNP MP Mhairi Black “excoriating the Tories” in Parliament (videos): July 2015, Feb. 2016, Dec. 2016, July 2016, Youtube.
Header Image via Andy Miah on Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2qQ7Q1x

Will Fear of Refugees Become the Status Quo in Czech Politics?

By Christian Jorgensen

Cover image: Photo: Nico Trinkhaus – Royal Way, Prague, Czech Republic

Per a poll by the Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM) released earlier this spring, 61% of Czech citizens are against accepting any additional refugees into the Czech Republic. The same CVVM poll also showed that 73% of Czech citizens find refugees to be a major security threat to the Czech Republic, on par with the threat presented by ISIL.

A look at the actual numbers of people seeking asylum in the Czech Republic makes this popular fear somewhat surprising.  According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there were only 3,644 registered refugees in the Czech Republic, a mere 0.03% of the Czech population (10.52 million). Additionally, in 2016 only 64 refugees were either relocated or resettled in the Czech Republic and the country was estimated to have 1,475 asylum applications still open in 2016. (For comparison, Germany handled about 745,155 applications for asylum that year, and the small country of Malta handled 1,930). Adding together all the statistical numbers of refugees, the portion equals out to only 0.05% of the Czech population. So, with such small numbers, what is this fear based on?

Many may think that the estimated count of refugees currently in the country do not take into consideration the number of people crossing over the Czech border on their way to seek asylum in more popular destinations, such as Germany. However, the routes most often taken by people seeking asylum originating from Italy and Greece in most cases completely bypass the Czech Republic (see map, below). Unlike other members of the “Visegrad group” such as Hungary, the Czech Republic is not a very popular stopover country on the route across Europe.

Source:National Geographic

Are Czechs perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of even a relatively minor influx of people from other countries? A look at the statistics would say otherwise. In 2015 only 29,602 people immigrated to the country. Compare that number to the 25,684 Czech residents emigrating (i.e, leaving) in 2015  and a low birthrate of only 9.5 (per 1000, 203rd in the world) it is easy to see that Czech Republic is not having a population surplus problem (if anything, rather the opposite). Are Czech citizens being told otherwise?

The Czech government has been known to exaggerate the number of migrants coming to the Czech Republic via both politicians’ statements and in official government reports. Czech Deputy Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, said that taking any more refugees could lead to, “[T]he next day 15 or 20 thousand more will come to our doorstep.” He added that “we have thousands of non-registered people that threaten our citizens.” His argument that thousands of people are coming to the doors of the Czech Republic is very off from the official numbers mentioned earlier by the UNHCR and other migration agencies.

In fact, Czech has in the past been a country that produced great numbers seeking refuge. Following the end of the Second World War and the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, many fled what makes up modern Czech Republic. In 1945, 10,000 citizens fled the region, increasing to 50,000 Czechs following the communist takeover. In 1968, during what is now known as the Prague Spring or the Warsaw pact invasion, between 40,000 and 70,000 Czechs immediately fled the region to seek asylum in the West. As a people that have benefited greatly from the refugee and asylum system, it makes one wonder why they have such a negative view towards refugees.

So, if individuals seeking asylum are not crossing the border in great numbers, not being resettled in great numbers, and the country is not being overwhelmed with immigrants generally, then what really is behind this major fear of refugees in the Czech Republic?  An educated guess is that much of it has been created or reinforced by the rhetoric the Czech government has used since the refugee crisis began.

The ruling presidential party (Social Democratic Party) has been vocal about their fear of refugees both to the Czech people and abroad.  Press Secretary for President Miloš Zeman, Jiří Ovčáček said in 2016 that, “by [the Czech Republic] accepting migrants, we would create fertile ground for barbaric attacks.” In 2015 President Zeman, in his typical bellicose style, compared the refugee crisis to a tsunami that will kill him. Zeman continues to fan the flames to this groundless threat and has promoted the idea that Czech citizens should begin arming themselves to prevent a potential “Super Holocaust” as he believes the refugee crisis in Europe to be an organized invasion by Muslim terrorists, although Zeman has yet to provide any proof of such claims. All this fearful rhetoric by the Czech Presidential Office is interesting since Czech has never been the site of a terror or mass attack by refugees- or anyone else for that matter. (The closest thing was probably a fake “ISIS attack” staged by an anti-immigrant group in Prague in 2016).  The Czech Republic has even been listed as a country with a low risk of potential terrorist attacks by such governmental offices such as the British Home Office.

The threat of terror attacks is not the only fear being pushed by the Czech government in connection to refugees. Czech officials have also been known to promote the idea that accepting refugees will lead to the collapse of Czech society. Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec said that by accepting more refugees by “the proposed [EU] quota it could lead to a collapse of society.” President Zeman offered little hope to promoting the belief migrants may benefit society, saying that, “the integration of Muslims is impossible.” All of this has been said without providing any evidence but can easily lead people to believe that people immigrating or seeking asylum in Czech can only harm society.

The members of Czech’s ruling government are at least partly responsible for the latest polling numbers showing fear of refugees and migrants. This is becoming an all too common method by many governments and parties in Europe, to create fear of migration by making groundless statements without providing any evidence.

With a presidential election coming up early next year let’s take a look at the context of fear of refugees among the presidential candidate platforms. Although it is a contentious issue within Czech society, it doesn’t seem to be one among the presidential campaigns. Of the eleven candidates still running campaigns the majority all seem to hold the same policy towards refugees: deter and reject. Only one candidate, Michal Horáček, takes a slightly more welcoming stance- and only slightly.  So if the majority of candidates are promoting a pessimistic view towards refugees and migrants; will the fear of migration be an issue candidates use to drive voters to the poll or will “anti-immigrant” become the status-quo in Czech politics? 

Further Reading and Sources
CVVM Poll (in Czech)
European Commission Asylum Statistics
European Commission Immigration/Emigration Statistics
Birth Rate Index (CIA)
UNHCR Statistics
Press Secretary Statement
1945 Statistics
1968 Statistics (second source)
Jiří Ovčáček Statements
Zeman Tsunami Statement
Super Holocaust Statement
British Home Office Security Ranking
Milan Chovanec Statement
Zeman Integration Statements
Michael Horacek Migration Platform
National Geographic Maps
Fake ISIS Attack in Prague

Cover image: Photo: Nico Trinkhaus – Royal Way, Prague, Czech Republic